Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Secrets of Ben Ryan's Training Success

MANY articles and news items have been written locally and globally about Fiji's rugby sevens fairytale success at the Rio Olympics 2016. In this article, I look at the "secrets of success" in the training program that resulted in Fiji's gold medal win and how we can replicate these successes to enhance learning engagements in our schools and universities. The lessons are also useful for the general public.

Banning social media during the training period
To cut out any potential distractions, former national 7s coach Ben Ryan banned mobile phones before and during tournaments but allowed players to mingle freely with each other and other athletes.
A number of higher education institutions such as USP and FNU filter out social media in IT labs during study hours to enable students to concentrate on their learning.
A nationwide survey conducted in the Central, Western and Northern divisions in October 2015 noted that 91 per cent of youths had mobile phones.
Seventy-two per cent had mobile phones with internet connections. Eighty-three per cent had Facebook accounts and 38 per cent had Twitter accounts.
Shutting out social media during school hours not only enhances concentration in studies but also encourages individuals to have more time to talk to each other at a social level thereby strengthening their interpersonal communication skills.
I have come across cases where individuals communicate with me and others through SMS, FB or Twitter even though I am just a few metres away. They think this is normal behaviour!
Ryan said it made a big difference because the players were not preoccupied with "selfies" or being stressed out with posts and messages.
The training became "a more relaxing enjoyable journey for them all, and it is remarkable how they coped with that type of pressure — they didn't ever really feel it".

Back to basics approach
Ryan had a back-to-basics approach. In a nutshell, he kept things simple. He said, "With advances in technology and knowledge, sometimes you just make things more complicated than they need to be."
He made very clear the framework they were working on and everyone from the players, the support staff and even the Fijian public were all familiar with the basic aim and training objectives.
In the education system, I see this as keeping to the basics in teaching functional literacy and numeracy skills.
At the end of the day, students need to be able to read and write and handle basic calculating competencies. It is good news that the Ministry of Education has been proactive in reading and writing assessments and looking at areas where effective interventions can be put in.
We also need to encourage a culture of reading. Many people are preoccupied with social media and do not have time to read. Two parents complained to me that their teenage children were preoccupied with reading from Wattpad.
Wattpad is an online storytelling community where users post written works such as articles, stories, fan fiction, and poems, either through the website or the mobile app. The parents' concern was that the stories were low quality. I argued that at least they were reading something. After tiring of ephemeral literature, I am sure they would graduate to quality works.
While I have spoken about the negative aspects of social media, there are also positive aspects. I was at a seminar and had quite forgotten a Bible verse. I gave the chapter and verse number and within seconds, a 15-year-old whipped out her phone and read out the verse from her online Bible.
Positive attitude
Ryan said, "We made sure we were kind to everyone and that there was a real feeling that everything was positive in the camp. They are the key messages that I think Fiji can give to other sports and other organisations."
One thing we should encourage in our universities and schools is that learning is fun. We often see some students and teachers moving with sorrowful faces but surely this mournful attitude can be tweaked with lessons that go beyond long lectures and copious notes on the blackboard to more innovative ones.
Why is a positive attitude important? Ryan says that it builds enthusiasm and confidence that individuals are winners.

Importance of local drinks
During the Fiji sevens training sessions at Pacific Harbour, Ryan got his players to drink 100 green coconuts daily. I realise that the Fijian public has a fixation for fizzy drinks and I am not helping with my weakness for Muther energy drinks.
Given Fiji's high rates of non-communicable diseases, we all need to eat locally-grown foods and drinks. Coconut water has more potassium than four bananas and hydrates the body better than plain water. It is also fat and cholesterol free. Let us take our cue from Ryan by drinking more coconut juice and local foods and encourage young learners to do so too.

There are many lessons that we can learn from our successful rugby sevens outing at the Rio Olympics 2016.
One of the most enduring ones that our young learners can learn from is the importance of humility.
This coupled with a positive attitude, a strong team spirit and the will to succeed should auger well for teachers and learners and indeed the Fijian public.
* Dr Joseph Veramu studied at USP and the London South Bank University and works as a consultant. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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